People First

I often wonder if people actually understand what this means.
Sometimes, I can almost hear the collective groan when I mention it, or, if I correct a person.
I can see the eyes roll, and people look at me with 'that' tone of voice in their eyes.
You know what I mean.

The thing is, I am serious when I correct people. I choose to educate and encourage people to stop looking at someone with a disability as though they are nothing but that disability.
Just because someone may look different, may not be able to talk, or may have a label whacked on them, doesn't mean that they are not PEOPLE FIRST.
Imagine if someone judged you purely on your hairdo (which, not surprisingly does actually happen, just ask our caretaker prime minister), instead of talking to you, they looked at you and decided you were just that girl with funny hair who probably can't talk.
Which leads me to assumptions.

Why do people assume the things they cannot know? For example, there seems to be many people around me that make up things in their minds, or assume things about me that just aren't true at all. Most of the time, it's water off a duck's back. You develop a very thick skin when you have child with a disability, which is probably because you get used to people judging you. But every now and then it makes me sad.

When I am talking about People First language, I am simply referring to calling people by their name. Ryley, for example, doesn't want to be referred to as 'That kid with WHS whose name is Ryley'. He wants to be known as Ryley. His disability doesn't define who he is. He is a person in his own right. He just happens to have WHS. Just like I happen to have brown hair.

One of the things I try and educate people on is using the phrase "child with a disability", not "disabled child". If you think about the two phrases and say them out loud, I am betting that both conjure up different images.
Now imagine a real life person who happens to have a disability. Imagine how they would feel being known by their disability. Despite what many people assume, those who have disabilities are not stupid. Some may not be able to talk, but they sure can understand tones of voices, gestures, and behaviours, and usually what is being said.

Changing people's attitudes is hard work. Unfortunately, as a society, we have ingrained in us a desire to outdo each other and try and make others feel bad because of our own insecurities. People who are on the 'margins' are easy targets. Until we have a government that respects people with disabilities, it is going to be an incredibly slow process.


  1. Extremelly well said Anna..!! x

  2. P.s do you mind if I post a link to this update on my blog?

  3. Standing and applauding. There are too many things in this post that I agree with for me to go into specifics on in one comment.

    Suffice to say, I was floored when I bumped into a mum whose child goes to L's day care, at Kmart one day - I recognised little boy R, who has quite a severe disability - and she seemed shocked that I would stop to say hi to her and her son. I walked away feeling quite sad about it, for her, as if it was so rare that she had someone stop and have a conversation with her.

    I make mistakes, I'm sure, but as I learn what not to say, what not to avoid, I widen my awareness. You can never stop correcting people, Anna. Know that you are spot on for doing so, no matter that 'tone' in their eyes ;) I know it, I see that same tone too, with regards to neonatal loss and its associated issues which I often advocate for.

  4. Brilliant post Anna.

    Similar to the poster above, I was having a chat with a parent at work who was shocked that I'd stopped and spoken to her son when she said most people just act like he isn't even there. I don't understand how people can be so ignorant as to act that a child doesn't even exist. :(

  5. Well written and said Anna.

    I was nodding away in agreeance.

    Thh thing that often blows me away is not your average member of society using stupid language but other parents of kids with disabilities who still use the label first talk....

    man its a massive job we have ahead of us :)

  6. Great post, Anna. Glad to have found your blog! I've never heard of WHS, and look forward to reading more about you and your family, and especially Ryley! :-)


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